azcentral sports spent Monday night and part of Tuesday morning trading text messages with Larry Fitzgerald to gauge his mood and emotions, talk about the past and the future, and to get a feel if he’s leaning toward staying or going.
For 15 years now, we’ve been able to trust in Larry Fitzgerald finishing what he started.
Whether it’s running a perfectly precise route, laying out to snare a do-or-die reception for a game-saving first down, freeing up a teammate by offering a bone-jarring block or doing his part off the field to help change the world, Fitzgerald has always made an impact.
There was a moment late in Sunday’s 40-14 blowout loss to the Falcons, though, when Fitzgerald made us do a double-take. After catching a pass from backup Mike Glennon and streaking up the middle of the field, he encountered Falcons safety Damontae Kazee, lowered his shoulder, and bowled over him like a runaway beer truck.
As Fox Sports analyst Ronde Barber noted, “This is a 15-year vet. Larry’s not young, but he’s still got that competitive fire in him and I’ve got to tell you what, there’s nothing like this. To see a veteran player in a game that means nothing – you’re losing by 33 points – and go out and try to finish that little run, that’s awesome.”
‘Needed to release a little bit of frustration’
We’ve seen him do things like that before, but this felt different. It was almost as if Fitzgerald was trying to send a message. Maybe it was to let us all know that he’s not done just yet and isn’t ready to retire. Or maybe it was his way of going out with a bang and leaving us with just another talking-point memory of his wonderful Hall of Fame career.
Turns out it was neither. Fitzgerald was just acting human, something we all need to remember that he is.
“In a different situation, I would have tried to avoid him or try to score a touchdown,” Fitzgerald told us after the game. “I needed to release a little bit of frustration and anger there. I told him I was sorry. I knew he was a little banged up earlier in the game and I wasn’t trying to hurt him or anything. But I needed a little bit of contact.”
Did it help?
“No,” he said.
‘There’s a lot to be thankful for’
I asked Fitzgerald, 35, what kind of personal impact all the losing from this turbulent 3-11 season is having on him, if it’s wearing him thin more than other trying seasons that also ended in disappointment. Once again, the human element in his response is worth filing away as he prepares for the final two games of 2018, including what could be his final home game ever on Sunday when the Cardinals meet the Rams at State Farm Stadium.
“I mean, it’s disturbing, it’s frustrating. You hate it, but I try to find the silver lining in everything,” he said. “It’s the holiday season. My kids are healthy. I mean, I’m no different than anybody else. I’m frustrated at work, but there’s a lot to be thankful for.”
If Sunday is his last home game, Cardinals fans will want to be there to say thank you to Fitzgerald. In light of that, The Republic spent Monday night and part of Tuesday morning trading text messages with Fitzgerald to gauge his mood and emotions, talk about the past and the future, and to get a feel if he’s leaning toward staying or going.
First, we wanted to know if he thinks it might feel a little different this Sunday when he gets to the stadium, suits up, goes through pregame workouts and then runs through the tunnel during player introductions.
“No different than any other game,” Fitzgerald said. “Honed in and ready to play as I have the hundreds of other times I have done it.”
Has he wondered if this particular home game might really be his last?
“It may. It may not,” he said. “NFL careers end every Sunday. I’m just blessed to be able to play the game I love.”
Just to be sure, we asked Fitzgerald if he plans to stay true to his words from earlier this year when he said if he decides to continue playing, it would only be for the Cardinals and no one else.
“I have never had any desire to play anywhere else,” he assured. “I started here.”
And yes, he will finish here. He won’t sign with his hometown Vikings or try to win a Super Bowl in New England with Tom Brady. That assurance wouldn’t have happened, however, if it hadn’t been for Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, who made a series of promises to Fitzgerald when the team drafted him with the third overall pick out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2004.
“Michael has done what he said he would do,” Fitzgerald said. “He told me he was going to get us a new stadium, build a state-of-the-art dining facility, indoor bubble, locker room, weight room and have the best training staff in the NFL. All of that has been true. He and his family have treated me very kind for 15 years. That’s not common practice in the most cold-hearted, cut-throat business around.
“He’s taught me so much and opened so many doors off the field.”
On the field, Fitzgerald owns every receiving record in Cardinals history. He’s second all-time in NFL history behind Jerry Rice (22,895) in receiving yards (16,190) and with 1,293 career receptions, needs just 33 more catches to surpass Tony Gonzalez (1,325) and move into second place all-time behind Rice (1,549).
Before he makes a decision about his plans for next season, Fitzgerald will do what he always does and reflect while doing some world traveling. He’s visited more than 100 countries thus far, and during those trips, he’s done everything from sand surfing in Dubai to lava boarding in Nicaragua. He’s swam with great white sharks off the Australian coast, and he’s walked alone, unarmed, amongst lions, leopards and rhinos in the Serengeti, located in northern Tanzania.
“I love travel because of the perspective it allows me,” Fitzgerald said. “I am intellectually curious and getting out of my comfort zone helps me grow on many levels. I love to serve as well, which I can do with a few of the non-profit organizations I’ve teamed with. There is nothing better than taking a nature hike in Africa or trek in the Himalayas or hearing kids singing in a small rural village in Peru.”
Fitzgerald might ponder retirement from a forest in Finland or a sandy beach in Bora Bora. If he decides to retire, though, how will he know he’s making the right decision?
“I have spoken with many guys who have played in the past and they say you will know when it’s time,” Fitzgerald said.
Finally, I asked Fitzgerald if he knows deep in his heart which way he is leaning. I didn’t ask him to tell me what he plans on doing, just if his gut happens to be pulling him in one direction or the other. Once again, he was as honest as ever when he answered me.
“No clue, Bobby,” he said.
Reach McManaman at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.
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